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7 Tips to Prepare for Your Career While Still in School

The Harvard Business Review reports that two-thirds of college graduates struggle to transition into the workforce. There are likely many factors that contribute to this phenomenon, such as changes to our economic culture, prohibitive student debt, and a general decline in job security.

However, luckily, while there are some factors that are out of your control, there are steps you can take to improve your chances of getting your career off the ground smoothly after you finish school. Although it is also certainly possible to find a good career without a degree, people who are pursuing a degree to promote their professional interests should ideally begin thinking about their post-graduate life while they are still in school.

1. Stay Focused on Your Studies

While it’s important to consider what your next step is, you still want to stay present and engaged with your current studies. Disengaging from schoolwork could lead to poor grades or other missed opportunities in the workforce. Always keep in mind that you can’t proceed to the next step in your plan until you complete the current one, and if you are already feeling disinterest in your field, it may be better to adjust your goals sooner rather than later.

2. Expand Your Knowledge

It is important to continually pursue knowledge that relates to your studies and/or professional goals outside of formal schooling. There are a few tried-and-true ways to pursue you knowledge independently, including:

  • Reading relevant news articles;
  • Finding relevant online communities;
  • Finding relevant communities on campus;
  • Finding gamified learning opportunities.

For example, someone who is learning a foreign language could read articles in that language, utilize websites like Duolingo, or find groups interested in practicing the spoken language together.

3. Get on Social Media

Being active on certain social media sites can be helpful for making professional connections, finding new opportunities, and staying informed on the goings-on in your industry or field. This is especially pertinent when it comes to profiles on social media sites that have substantial, professionally-oriented communities, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

For example, an aspiring business professional could use LinkedIn to find promising companies and connections in their field, and they could use Twitter to keep track of recent changes in their markets of interest.

4. Participate in Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities can expand your experience in a way that may later be beneficial in the course of your work, or may at least may be appealing to future employers. Additionally, it can help you begin to network in your field. Ways you can get involved in professionally-oriented extracurricular activities include:

For example, a person with an interest in social work could benefit from organizing a charity event to help families in need. Theoretically, this experience could familiarize you with others who are strongly invested in helping people, give you an idea of what your day-to-day duties and interactions might be like, and demonstrate to future employers (especially early in your career) that you are truly dedicated to your profession.

5. Find a Job or Internship

A stepping stone job or internship is often the best way to break into the career you want, and to find a suitable intermediary job, it will be in your best interest to start looking early. For example, nurses can become certified as a CNA within a short period of time, and then work as a CNA while still in school. This can allow students to afford school as well as get practical experience and skills while they pursue an advanced certification. This could even help them transition to becoming a registered nurse or to pursue a different specialization or certification that much faster.

6. Volunteer

Volunteering is a highly beneficial way to gain professional experience, whether you have a particular career path in mind or not. Some professional benefits that can be gleaned from volunteer work include:

  • Hands-on experience in your field;
  • Networking opportunities with other professionals in your field;
  • Networking opportunities with potential clients;
  • Opportunities to expand your professional portfolio and resume;
  • Opportunities to improve your professional reputation;
  • A chance to increase your future earning potential;
  • A chance to determine whether you will really enjoy the work.

In fact, work with non-profit organizations can be a great way to break into a career with no other previous experience.

7. Start Looking

Looking for a job is a crucial element in preparation for post-graduate life. You don’t necessarily need to start seriously looking into jobs, but it is helpful to get an idea of the professional landscape, discover promising companies, and reach out to people within the industry.

For example, someone interested in a career in IT work might tentatively look into IT companies in their area and highly successful companies in the industry at large. This may not only give you an idea of specific companies you may like to work for in the future, but maybe even just the type of company you would like to work for and what your expectations should be.

Furthermore, this search may show you what innovators in the industry are doing to put their companies ahead of the curve, which could expand your professional knowledge, and impress future employers. In fact, it may even be beneficial to politely reach out to a company to learn more about career opportunities. In addition to providing you with further knowledge about that specific company and general career expectations in the industry, the people you reach out to may be impressed by your tenacity and could become valuable future contacts.

In short, it is never too early to start thinking about how you are going to turn your skills into a career.

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